Materials of the Committee for Human Rights, September 1971 (21.5)

<<No 21 : 11 September 1971>>


To the Supreme Court of the RSFSR

16 July 1971

Concerning the strange trial in Sverdlovsk

We have familiarised ourselves with reports and a transcript of the trial of V. Kukui [CCE 20.4]), which took place in Sverdlovsk on 15-16 June 1971. He was charged with the circulation of deliberately false information libelling the Soviet social and political system [CCE 19.11, item 13]. We believe the information we have received to be accurate, and regard it as expedient to inform the Supreme Court of several extremely strange details, suspecting that because of their very singularity they did not find due reflection in the official protocol.

The fact that during the court examination an unusually wide range of topics was scrutinized is in itself strange. Such questions as the following were put to witnesses:

Prutkin was asked – “Have you experienced persecution for being a Jew?”

Markman was asked – “What did Kukui say about the Russian language and Russian literature?” “Why did you submit an application to emigrate to Israel?”

These questions, and others having no relevance to the substance of the indictment, are of course most interesting, but it is doubtful whether a thorough study of them could have been made, without detriment to the examination of the case, in the two days the hearing lasted.

It is strange that the court was indifferent to the fact that the witnesses directly accused the [pre-trial] investigator of having created an atmosphere during questioning such that they, the witnesses, had been compelled to give testimony to the investigator’s liking. All the witnesses who appeared at the trial repudiated, directly or indirectly, the testimony they had given during the pre-trial investigation. The court simply took the view that they had altered their testimony in order to mitigate the fate of the accused, and it took this view at the Procurator’s instigation without examining the question.

Only one witness enjoyed the complete trust of the Procurator and the court: V. Kukui’s brother Anatoly. In the words of the Procurator, this witness was a member of the Communist Party and had recently been awarded a Jubilee Medal, and it was therefore doubtful whether such a man would give false testimony. This was obvious discrimination based on Party membership and on the possession of medals: it is clear that everyone, irrespective of Party membership and medals, has the right to a court’s trust, until the opposite has been proved. In this particular case, such discrimination against witnesses led to the conviction of Valery Kukui solely, in fact, on the basis of the testimony (read out in court) of his brother [who was absent].

The classification of materials alleged to have been circulated by V. Kukui is also strange. Thus the prosecutor stated that he had superficially familiarised himself with the story The Heart of a Dog [by Mikhail Bulgakov], but that this was enough for him to appraise it as anti-Soviet. The Procurator then quoted a passage from the story in support of his appraisal – the words: “I’d like to grab him by his calloused proletarian foot”. The law does not state that the prosecutor’s superficial acquaintance with the materials of a case is sufficient to constitute grounds for a successful appeal, and so it now depends on the Supreme Court whether Bulgakov will once again [as under Stalin] be judged to be anti-Soviet.

The atmosphere of strangeness even affected counsel for the defence: after substantiating his conclusion that there was nothing in the actions of V. Kukui which constituted a crime, he asks the court… to alleviate the sentence.

We hope that the sentence in which this strange trial culminated will not come into legal force thanks to the attentive intervention of the Supreme Court.

Sakharov, V. Chalidze


To the members of the USSR Supreme Soviet

12 August 1971

Request for a Pardon

E. Levitin (Krasnov), the well-known writer on church affairs, has been found guilty [CCE 20.6]. He has propagated his beliefs and defended people’s right to believe in God and to perform religious ceremonies.

Let there be one less sufferer for his beliefs – this depends on you.

Chalidze, A. Tverdokhlebov
D. Sakharov, R. Shafarevich
A Volpin


Press Release

During the first half of 1971 the Committee for Human Rights in Moscow studied a number of documents on the problem of the rights of persons who have been adjudged mentally ill, namely a report by R.A. Medvedev [6] and the opinions of A.S. Volpin [7] and V.N. Chalidze. [8]

The Committee considers that there is an urgent need for improvement of the law and practice regarding the extent to which the rights of such persons can be restricted and the procedure for doing so,

“so that the rights of a man, however unhealthy his condition and however mentally defective he may be, should not be restricted, except in accordance with the law governing cases where this is necessary for the defence of his fundamental rights, for the defence of the rights of other persons and for the protection of the public.”

The Committee considers that the norms governing the procedure for such restriction must take constructive account of the vagueness of the concept of mental illness.

The Committee has carefully studied the well-known public documents about the situation of persons who have been judged to be mentally ill, and is confident of their reliability.

The Committee has noted that the imperfect guarantees of the rights of the mentally ill create a danger of violations of Human Rights being committed with the object of discrediting unorthodox scientific, social, political and philosophical ideas by judging the originators of those ideas to be mentally ill.

The Committee has approached a number of government bodies, calling on them to help in improving the guarantees of the rights of persons who have been judged to be mentally ill.

The Committee has approved an appeal to the Fifth World Congress of Psychiatrists [9] (due to take place in autumn 1971 [28 November-4 December] in Mexico), in which it calls upon psychiatrists to promote the drawing-up of international legal guarantees for the mentally ill.

The documents of the Committee referred to above are published in issue No. 11 of the journal Social Issues, 10 September 1971.

founder-member of the Committee for Human Rights


[6] For the views of Roy and Zhores Medvedev see also their book A Question of Madness, London, 1971. Russian edition: Kto sumasshedshii? Macmillan, London. 1971.

[7] For Volpin’s views see also his open letter in Kaznimye sumasshestviem [Punished with madness], Frankfurt, 1971, pp. 348-365.

[8] For Chalidze’s views, see also ibid., pp. 416-427.

[9] For appeal to the Fifth World Congress of Psychiatrists see text in The Times, London, 23 October 1971.